Namibia Pelts in Demand

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Namibia’s Swakara pelts, which sold for record prices at the Copen-hagen Auction, have left buyers crying for more. Agra says the buyers expressed disappointment over the quantities available at the auction and urged Swakara farmers to increase their production significantly. The pelts went for a record price at the Copenhagen Fur auction. For the first time ever, 72 Swakara Black D selected super pelts sold for N$643 per pelt, the highest price ever achieved. Out of a large number of potential buyers from Eng-land, Italy, Germany, Spain, USA, Greece, Israel and Japan, only 25 were eventual successful bidders for the limited number of skins on offer. Although there are 800 communal and commercial karakul farmers in the country, it is unlikely that the industry will see the production it witnessed 30 years ago. That time, between Na-mibia and South Africa there was 5.5 million, which has declined to about 130 000 at present. The lowest the industry experienced was however 80 000 pelts in 1996. Agra’s Senior Manager: Livestock, Peter Hugo told New Era yesterday that the industry will never return to its glory years of 1973/4 when the two countries recorded 5.5 million pelts. In a statement this week, Agra said 56 672 skins were available for sale under the new quality labelling system, the Purple Club, to which Namibia has been admitted as an indication of the high standard of sorting of Swakara in the country. Swakara is Namibia’s brand name for karakul pelts, while purple is the topmost grade, which allows the top 100 exclusive range of boutiques worldwide to sell purple label garments. The purple label was launched last year in Copen-hagen, Denmark, while Na-mibia only joined as from this month. The label also includes Swakara in all advertising initiatives of Copenhagen Fur, a major trading role player in international fur trade dealing with other fur such as fox, mink and chinchilla. The industry went into turbulent times in the 1980s when most farmers switched over from karakul to the more profitable Dorper farming due to economic problems in the fur industry. In 1990, the total number of pelts was 510 414 compared to a record 2.7 million in 1980. Hugo said a lot of people in the fur industry abroad went bankrupt, resulting in the decline in pelt prices. The prices had gone as low as N$7 per pelt while at the same time the prices of lamb and mutton had gone up, forcing farmers to switch over to meat production, he said. Now that the prices are picking up again, Hugo says the country does not have enough animals to increase its production. The karakul is a specific breed that needs time to build up, he added. Agra, in conjunction with the Karakul Board, has introduced a project which sub-sidises breeding stock for communal farmers to increase their stock. The project has developed over the years, which enables farmers to buy stock during auctions at subsidised costs. As of 2004/5 a total number of 466 subsidised rams and 879 subsidised ewes were distributed to Aranos, Karasburg, Keetmanshoop, Mariental and Rehoboth. However, according to Hugo the karakul has such advantages that it remains suitable for farmers who get land as a result of the land reform policy. Hugo said the karakul sheep stay together, which minimizes the incidents of predators preying on them. “They are less likely to be caught because a jackal won’t easily get into a flock of sheep,” he emphasized. In addition, the flock investment in the karakul breed is of good economical value because one needs fewer rams for a flock because they are always together. The ram/ewe ratio is one ram to 100 ewes. Judging by the auction in Copenhagen, the prices have increased by 68 percent compared to the prices of the September 2005 auction, when the highest price recorded was N$506. Last Sunday’s sale earned the industry N$23 million of foreign exchange at one auction. During 2005, prices of the Swakara pelts, locally termed the Black Diamond, had increased by 50 percent from N$162 in 2004 to N$246 last year. With the record prices at last weekend’s auction, the average price per pelt has gone up to between N$255 and N$404 from N$1.40 in 1930 to N$245 in 2005. The Agra Pelt Centre is the only Swakara sorting centre worldwide, where pelts are collected and sorted according to hair, colour, length, curl development and quality before being sent to international pelt auctions annually. Neighbouring countries, including South Africa and Botswana, said Agra, send their pelts to Namibia for inclusion into the Swakara collection.